It’s who you know

Which fifteen fictional characters have influenced you most?  Not just the ones you love, but who changed you?  As a writer, a reader, as a person.  As an adult, or from childhood.

This question is floating around the net right now, with a good version at Harriet Devine’s blog.  These exercises are supposed to be done in a rush, but yeah, I spent time thinking.  So shoot me.

I reflected on those pairs (Kirk/Spock, Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin, Nancy Blackett/Titty Walker) and how I hero-worshipped the first half as a child and admire the second half as an adult, so my first two are

1.            Nancy Blackett

2.             Mr Spock

Romantic heroines are popular in these lists, but influenced me away from their expectations.  I was never interested in trading my body for position or security.  But I like intellect and wit and I can learn when it all goes wrong:

3.             Anna Karenina

4.             Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch

5.             Emma

And talking of it all going wrong,

6.             Richard II (Shakespeare’s version)

7.             The Old Man (in The Old Man and the Sea)

Reading the admired books of a generation and learning that miserable egoists are not the men I want to imitate has been very liberating.  They may be well-written, influential in the culture at large, their creators lionised, but nowadays they just irritate the hell out of me.  I have to pick just one, so step up, Saul Bellow’s

8.             Herzog

I’m a feminist, a lesbian, and (almost by definition therefore) a social optimist despite the evidence.  Obviously I’m influenced by the legion of foremothers, but these must be fictional heroines.   So to represent all those wonderful women who have changed the world, I’ll have

9.             Celie Johnson from The Colour Purple

10.          Maris of Windhaven

11.          Kate in Taming of the Shrew

12.          Molly Bolt, the effervescent heroine of Rubyfruit Jungle.  (So much more influential than Stephen from The Well of Loneliness, for which Rita Mae Brown earns my eternal gratitude.)

Learning how to make all one’s characters real, including the baddies, the devices and the conformists, is an important lesson.  I love the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, but his supporter of the status quo remains undefined.  That loss really influenced how I told the story of Baldur in my novel.  So

13.          Phyllis Boyle

All my life, I loved adventure, and I’ve seen myself as something of an outsider, learning adaptive behaviour to thrive, but not wholly socialised.  Is this innate or a result of reading too much:

14.          Tarzan

I need to represent powerful women in the creative conciousness, to celebrate the importance of new words in the world, to illustrate how interweaving symbolism and knowledge helps us all to grow, to include poetry.  So from Adrienne Rich’s wonderful Turning the Wheel, I choose

15.          the desert witch, the shamaness

There’s one great omission from this list, the original Roaring Girl. Moll Frith leads the sixteenth century play and Ellen Galford’s great retelling in Moll Cutpurse.  But, I reckon you could guess that one, right?

If I can have only the one, she has to be Rich’s limping seer.

Tell us your fifteen, and hey, take as long as you need to think about it.


About Sarah Tanburn

I'm a writer, a sailor and a strategic adviser to public organisations. Visit my websites to find out more.
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